About 135 women die from cervical cancer annually

Health and social services deputy minister Esther Muinjangue says about 135 women in Namibia die from cervical cancer every year.

Muinjangue said this on Monday at the commemoration of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month at Outapi.

“In Namibia, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer after breast cancer and it is estimated that 236 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 135 die from the disease each year. It is a highly preventable public health problem that can be eliminated if women have access to available screening and treatment services,” she added.

According to Muinjangue, in order to address this global public health problem, the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched a global strategy for the elimination of cervical cancer in 2020.

As part of the acceleration activities, January every year has been set aside to commemorate cervical cancer, with the aim of creating awareness and generating demand for screening and subsequent treatment of those women at imminent risk.

“Since 2018, public health facilities have screened 138 992 women using Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA) and Pap smear screening methods, yet there remains a significant number of women who have not been screened yet,” Muinjangue said.

She said women living with HIV are at an increased risk of developing cervical cancer, as HIV increases the chances of developing cervical cancer six-fold.

According to the Namibia Population-Based HIV Impact Assessment 2017 report, the Omusati region was noted to be one of the regions with a high HIV prevalence rate of 16,9%.

By the end of September 2023, the region reported about 15 192 women living with HIV between the ages of 20 and 49 who are actively enrolled in HIV services.

Furthermore, Muinjangue added that the cervical cancer screening coverage rate for women living with HIV who were screened over the last three years in the Omusati region is 36%, which is significantly lower compared to the 70% WHO set target of women to be screened by 2030.

Sharing the same sentiments, cancer registrar and patient support officer at the Cancer Association of Namibia (CAN), Tareekuje Tjiriange, said the north-eastern regions of the country have recorded the highest concentration of cervical cancer, which may be due to the high HIV positive test ratio.

“Cervical cancer is normally observed to peak between the ages of 35 and 45 in Namibia and with some around the ages of 50 to 60,” he added.

Through CAN, approximately 1 200 screenings have been conducted in their outreach programmes.

Additionally, he said with the roll-out of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine programme later this year, they anticipate positive changes.

“Cervical cancer is a cancer that is highly driven by sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, HPV and the public’s knowledge and awareness of practising safe sex and annual screenings is a slight uphill battle,” he said.

Health spokesperson Walter Kamaya has urged women to go for screening at public facilities across all the regions.

“During the early stages there are no symptoms but later on one experiences symptoms such as abnormal bleeding and offensive vaginal discharge. It’s always best for women to go for check-ups more often,” Kamaya said.

He further urged women that are living with HIV to be screened, since HIV increases women’s risk for cervical cancer up to six times compared to those that are HIV negative.

“Cervical cancer is preventable through early detection and treatment of precancerous cells, which are known as lesions that may develop into cancer,” Kamaya said.

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